Thursday, November 04, 2004

Next Steps
With the election behind us, the world must now accept a US government with a renewed (or in many respects, initial) mandate and recognize that there is no more "waiting for John Kerry." We should use that to our advantage, as an opportunity to refresh moribund relationships, and an obvious place to start is with the US-EU partnership, as Tony Blair suggested yesterday. I see no better way to begin such a rapprochement than for the US to re-engage the Kyoto process on climate change.

Global warming may lack the urgency of Iraq or the economic impact of trade relations, but it is something that Europe takes very seriously, at both the EU and national levels. In addition, much of the EU's current policy in this area relies on market-based approaches originally advanced by the US, and for which major American corporations are now gearing up.

The Administration's previous dismissal of Kyoto burned political capital in Brussels, Paris and Berlin that might have proved valuable later in the UN Security Council, possibly even forestalling conflict in Iraq. This is water under the bridge, but rejoining the global conversation on climate change now in a serious way would signal a welcome new direction for US foreign policy.

Nor would that necessarily require ratifying the present Kyoto Treaty, which is probably not politically feasible under any president, Republican or Democratic. Kyoto is, after all, only a starting point on a long journey, and discussions on its successor will be even more important and challenging, since they will need to bring in both the US and the large, rapidly growing economies of the developing world, in order to be meaningful.

At this point you may be wondering what I'm smoking, and I admit I'm suggesting a fairly optimistic scenario. But there is a long history of US presidents doing surprising things when they feel comfortable with their base of support, as George W. Bush now must. If he's looking for an olive branch to hold out to Europe, climate change would be a great choice.

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